In Memoriam: Christopher Schmidt-Nowara

The History Department was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our former colleague, ormer Magis Distinguished Professor Christopher Schmidt-Nowara. Chris passed away suddenly on June 27, 2015 after a sudden illness, while visiting his daughter in Paris, France. He was 48-years old and held the Prince of Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. A graduate of Kenyon College, earning his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Schmidt-Nowara was a beloved professor at Fordham University for more than a decade. A memorial will be held at Fordham University in the fall. We have collected some reminiscences from members of the department.  The first comes from Chris’s colleague Professor Sarah Elizabeth Penry and the second from Chris’s doctoral student Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia.

A Remembrance of Chris Schmidt Nowara by Beth Penry

Chris Schmidt-Nowara and Beth Penry in Toro, June 2011

Chris Schmidt-Nowara and Beth Penry in Toro, June 2011

Chris Schmidt Nowara was my (and our) wonderful colleague in the History Department and in the Latin American and Latino Studies Institute (LALSI) at Fordham University. He was a terrific mentor to undergrad students at Lincoln Center and was influential in helping several students get prestigious fellowships to study in Latin America. He was also a gregarious and sentimental colleague who liked to commemorate his own and others’ life events and accomplishments—so for example, when he won tenure he invited people to join him at a bar in Brooklyn to celebrate, and later when he was promoted to professor, the party moved uptown to Manhattan.

But more importantly Chris was a dear friend to me and to my husband Tom Abercrombie. Tom took the photo here of Chris and me on the plaza in Toro, Spain in June 2011. Chris came to stay with us in Toro for a couple of days and then we all drove to Lisbon, Portugal (with the usual great conversation fueling the trip) to the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies (ASPHS) conference. The year Chris was hired at Fordham, I was a fellow at the John Carter Brown Library, so I didn’t meet him during the job search. John Coatsworth, who at the time ran the Boston Area Latin American History Workshop, told me that Chris was brilliant and I soon found out that John was right. As soon as I got back to New York I invited Chris to dinner at our apartment, and he showed up with a mutual friend from New Mexico (Chris’s beloved home state), John Nieto-Philips, who later co-edited a book with Chris. Chris instantly became a good friend and that was the first of many dinners and drinks together. I have fond memories of sitting on our balcony in Greenwich Village, drinking wine (white for Chris, red for us) and just talking for hours about history, politics, favorite movies and books. Not about sports though—he had to explain to me why he named his cat Sammy Sosa! I remember one particularly fun dinner at our apartment in the spring of 2009 with Chris & Miranda Spieler, Kirsten Swinth & Jocelyn Mason, and Rafael Sanchez & Patsy Spyer. A little crowded in our apartment but what great company! When he moved to Tufts I was afraid we would lose touch but Chris always let us know when he was coming to NYC so we could get together. Chris had wide-ranging interests in Latin American history. He and I worked on different regions of Latin America, different centuries and completely different topics, but despite all that Chris came to the panels that I organized for the ASPHS conference last year in Modena, Italy. I really appreciated him being there. Later, Chris, Tom and I made the rounds of restaurants in Modena (had a wonderful long lunch with a big crowd of Hispanistas, including Fordham LALSI colleague Rafael Lamas), and shopped in the open-air market together for dried porcini mushrooms as a little gift for Miranda. In December when we last saw him, he was just back from Paris and seeing his young daughter Althea who lives there with her mother. He told us that he and Althea had played a game and when she did well, she squealed “Ooh-la-la!” He was surprised and delighted by how typically French she sounded. The week he died he wrote to say that he would be in Madrid that weekend and asking if we would be there too. No, I wrote back and sent him a conference paper, asking for comments. His response, so typical of Chris, was that he would read it “con mucho gusto.” He was a superb scholar and a very generous and kind friend and he will be greatly missed.

A Remembrance of Christopher Ebert Schmidt Nowara by Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia

There are several things that a Ph.D. student imagines going wrong while writing a dissertation. Will the archives have what I’m looking for? How can I make my argument stronger? Has someone else written about my topic? How will I pay for all of this? As a mentor and dissertation advisor, Chris Schmidt-Nowara has been a lifeline since I first started graduate school at Fordham University. When he left Fordham for his position at Tufts, Chris called me into his office and reassured me that he would continue as my advisor. He kept that promise. His passing is a profound and shocking loss.

As many of you know, there is a unique relationship that develops between a doctoral student and an advisor. When I first started at Fordham, I was afraid that I had to make my research more explicitly match his. Instead, Chris told me that he wanted to continue with me as his student, but ONLY if I study what I was interested in. He encouraged me to push boundaries. As a result, I chose to write about the ways young people subverted the Francoist dictatorship in their everyday life, looking at comic books, punk zines, and other elements of youth and queer culture—a little divergent from his published work, but not surprisingly still in his wheelhouse. The one-on-one tutorial that I took with Chris will forever be one of my fondest memories of graduate school.

Despite being a senior scholar, and one of the most respected in multiple fields, he always made time for his students. He challenged my thinking, was my staunch advocate, and kept me on track. When Chris introduced me to someone it was also always with an affirming tone: “This is my student.” I knew he had my back. Although at Tufts, I always received regular mentorship from him, whether in Madrid, New York, Boston, Baltimore, or by Skype.

Christopher Schmidt-Nowara with one of his students at Fordham College Lincoln Center

Christopher Schmidt-Nowara with a student at Fordham College Lincoln Center

Only now has one of the greatest legacies that Chris left me become apparent with his passing: the vast number of scholars he introduced me to, both at Fordham and across the globe. I have a support system because of him—because of the types of relationships he cultivated with everyone he met. While he didn’t officially have many doctoral students, he both supported and mentored countless people across disciplines and borders. All his students and colleagues will miss his kind, inquisitive, and insightful hand.

(Louie’s remembrance was originally published in The Junto.)



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